Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Architects ‘crucial’ part of solution, UN climate summit told

London pollution carbon emissions

The president of the International Union of Architects (UIA) has urged political leaders to join forces with architects to help turn ‘unsustainable’ built environment practices around and halt runaway climate change

Thomas Vonier, who heads the UIA, an organisation representing 3 million architects worldwide and recognised by UNESCO, said architecture and design were a ‘crucial part of the solution’ to problems created by humans.

Vonier made his statement to coincide with the COP24 – formally known as the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – which has been billed as the follow-up to the 2015 Paris agreement and is taking place in Katowice, Poland.

Yesterday (December 3), naturalist David Attenborough addressed the summit and warned that the collapse of civilisation and the natural world was looming unless politicians act now.

The UIA is represented at the event by directors Ishtiaque Zahir Titas and Natalie Mossin.

In his statement, Vonier said architects must pledge to ’build better cities for the benefit of all, while conserving our resources and using them wisely’.

He said: ‘Current practices in the built environment are unsustainable. The built environment is a major consumer of energy and natural resources and a massive producer of waste. Furthermore, how we build can exacerbate inequalities and affect health.

’The built environment is part of the problem, but through the potential of planning, architecture and design, it is also a crucial part of the solution  architectural solutions are already there, contributing to sustainable communities and quality of life.

’We call upon governments, civil society and the private sector to help secure tighter government regulation, public demand for sustainable solutions and the investment in new knowledge throughout the private sector and across the value chain of the building sector.

‘The world urgently needs effective solutions. We need designs for cities and buildings that improve all lives, not only the lives of the wealthy or fortunate.’

Vonier called on architects to:

  • Provide basic services for all people
  • Ensure equal opportunity
  • Promote cleaner cities
  • Strengthen cities and settlements against disasters
  • Accommodate refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons
  • Promote safe and accessible public spaces
  • Assist the poorest among us to build better housing
  • Reduce the natural resources used in the building industry

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said it whole-heartedly backed the UIA’s new pledge and warned that architects who were slow to act on it would be ‘left behind’.

She said: ’We agree that society, government and the private sector must work together to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

’The need for businesses to demonstrate leadership on a range of environmental and social issues has never been more pressing.

’As the creative force behind our built environment, architects have a unique role to ensure that better outcomes for both people and planet arise from their designs.

’Ultimately clients will demand this of the profession, but those that wait to be led by client demand are likely to be left behind.’

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire also welcomed Vonier’s call-to-arms on what he called ‘one of the biggest challenges our profession faces’.

’We need to ramp up international collaboration to halt the impact of the built environment on our planet,’ Derbyshire said.

’As part of the UKGBC industry task group, the RIBA is developing an industry-led definition for net zero carbon buildings. This initiative will inform project designs, reporting initiatives, planning requirements and building regulations.

’We encourage architects and the wider built environment sector to contribute directly to the UN Sustainable Development Goals by designing sustainable buildings and retrofitting existing stock that is fit for the future.’

A government spokesperson said: ’The UK is a world leader in the fight against climate change and environmental protection is at the heart of our revised planning rulebook, setting clear expectations for future developments such as housing.

‘With greater protection for wildlife, air quality and ancient woodlands, these new planning rules complement the ambitions of our 25 Year Environment Plan for a cleaner, greener future.’



Readers' comments (5)

  • How about adding to the list the call for architects not to collaborate in the destruction of 'healthy' buildings simply because there's money in replacing them with something bigger?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • While I welcome the belated realisation that business as usual will result in environmental catastrophe and civilisation collapse, are we not over-estimating the impact that architects can make? As William Morris described himself as ‘not a capitalist, I am a hanger on of that class like all professional men/women’. It is rather like asking high street solicitors to ensure the rule of law. 50 years after the last energy crisis and the identification of climate change, we now need very swift action from world leaders. It only takes mention of the Grenfell Tower fire to show how badly wrong the creation of the built environment has gone in the UK. And 40 years of neoliberalism, privatisation and deregulation to show what minor, and marginalised, players architects are now.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Vonier's list is far too all-embracing and, as such, it risks achieving very little. Architects need to prioritise climate change, which was the main headline at COP24, ie; reduction of greenhouse gases through good design. Architects can only do this if we are central to the design and construction process; maybe the Grenfell Inquiry will help provide a focus on this for different but equally important reasons.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I feel we should be having a major rethink as a profession. Sustainability has failed to deliver and that is partly because of the way it is framed and partly because of the way it has been debased. We need a completely new paradigm and I'm convinced that is 'regenerative design'. There are a number of important distinctions between sustainable design and regenerative design that need to be debated and developed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Lets start with the retention and refurbishment of the concrete structures that are still standing, rather than their demolition and replacement with vanity projects. Starting with the architectural press, a culture change needs to take place which shifts the emphasis from the self-congratulatory stand-alone object-building to one which puts its environment and people first.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

Discover architecture career opportunities. Search and apply online for your dream job.
Find out more